LIVINGSTON, NJ - The Verona Girls Volleyball Team is headed back to the Essex County Tournament Finals to defend their crown after a 2-0 victory over Caldwell on Thursday night at Livingston High School.

“It was the first time in school history last year for them getting to the finals and now back to back is great,” said Verona Head Coach Jeff Stiefbold.

The Lady Hillbillies had their work cut out for them having to take down Caldwell for a third consecutive time this season. Clinging to a 17-15 lead in the opening game Stiefbold took a timeout to calm his ladies down.

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“I think we just really got in the zone and realized what we had at stake and we really just wanted to push through and finish it for ourselves,” said Brooke Cooney.

Following the timeout Brooke Cooney connected on eight straight service points for Verona. Kills from Carly Waterman aided Cooney along with solid defense from her supporting cast of Madisyn Matthews and Hunter Coppola gave Verona the 25-15 game one win.

“Brooke Cooney serving in game one put a lot of pressure on them and when it  wasn’t an ace they didn’t have a strong attack back so we were getting our offensive rhythm a little bit,” said Stiefbold

Verona capitalized off the momentum in game one in the second game. Waterman collected a pair of aces in route to five consecutive service points to stake the Lady Hillbillies to an early lead.

“[Caldwell] made a little error on the sub when they entered and they got a little frazzled and [Waterman] took advantage with that and we got a real nice lead,” said Stiefbold.

Waterman was joined by fellow standout Hunter Coppola in game two to stake Verona to a solid lead at 20-10. The duo combined for nine kills and two aces in the frame and 18 kills and five aces for the match.

“The whole team has been playing great all year, it’s hard to pinpoint on a night like tonight….we have a nice team,” said Stiefbold.

Despite the solid lead Caldwell refused to give in getting the game tight to within seven points at 23-16. The swing in momentum forced Stiefbold to take a timeout to calm his girls to close out the contest.

“He just tells us to stay focused and that we’re playing great and to keep our serves in and make sure we’re making smart plays,” said Cooney.

Verona responded scoring the games next two points and closing out game two and the match with a 25-16 win.

The Lady Hillbillies are now 23-0 on the season as they will defend their Essex County Championship against a worthy opponent in two-seeded Mount Saint Dominick Academy. The Verona squad will have their work cut out for them in a similar situation, as they will look to take down Mount Saint Dominick for the fourth time this season.

“We’re going to have to pass and serve and we’re going to have to stop their outside hitter Jessica Sanderson, we’re going to try to have to contain her and get our offense going,” said Stiefbold.

All photos by Nick Teodoro.